REVIEW: ’The Drowning Girls’ is a true-crime drama with a gleefully ghostly, ghastly twist, at the Arvada Center through May 21

April 11, 2017

Emily Van Fleet (Alice), Kate Gleason (Margaret) and Jessica Robblee (Bessie). Photo Credit: M. Gale Photography.

For a highly-stylized experimental play, The Drowning Girls pours in as much information and context as an episode of a true-crime “cold case” documentary.

But it’s much more fun.

The Drowning Girls runs in repertory with Bus Stop and Waiting for Godot through May 21 in the Black Box theatre at the Arvada Center.

Like tragic naiads, the drenched and dripping shades of three murdered women (Kate Gleason, Jessica Robblee, and Emily Van Fleet) emerge from their claw-foot crypts, unable to move on until justice is meted upon the sociopathic swindler who married and then dispatched them, drowning them in their bathtubs.

Hair plastered to their heads and tastefully covered in saturated turn-of-the-century lingerie, the victims relate the recurring modus operandi of their killer—the wooing, wedding, exploitation and murder, all committed in less than three weeks. Three victims in three years.

There’s much enjoyment in the telling. Sure, they are victims. Victims of a repressive male-dominated early-20th-century society, of their own romantic delusions and willingness to be duped, of discarding sense and family counsel in favor of trusting love, and their absolute vulnerability in the presence of a practiced predator.

Some of the drowning sequences, while brief and stylized, were nevertheless horrifying. I was half inclined to leap from my seat and initiate an unsolicited Baywatch moment.

The play has a deluge of humor, irony, double entendres and asphyxiation puns, matched with simultaneous pantomime and carefully timed physical gags. A great deal of morbid enjoyment is derived from watching the women slog around in their weedy wedding dresses, finding friendship and camaraderie in their mutual embarrassment and distress.

The trio of outstanding and accomplished actresses, primarily play the three women who met identical fates at the hands of the same man, but also numerous other characters who tried and failed to warn them not to trust George Joseph Smith. The women work so well together, they bring light and life to the macabre subject matter.

The play, directed with style and substance by Lynne Collins, was written by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson, and Daniela Vlaskalic.

Congratulations to scenic designer Brian Mallgrave for a waterlogged set that transforms the theatre into an actual environment. The three bathtubs are immersed in a dark pool of water, a soggy, humid purgatory equipped with showers that inconveniently douse the women to remind them of their misery. What’s even more remarkable is that with a day’s notice, the swampy set becomes a 1950s diner during a blizzard or Beckett’s barren wasteland.

Take the plunge, and check out The Drowning Girls. As the advertising promises, it will “take your breath away”.

Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday matinees at 1:00 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m., through May 21. An additional performance has been added on Saturday, April 29 at 2:00 p.m. Audience engagement events, including insider’s talkbacks and chats with the cast, are held through the run of the production.

The Drowning Girls is performed without an intermission. To purchase tickets go to http://arvadacenter.org/drowning-girls or call 720-898-7200. The Arvada Center is located at 6901 Wadsworth Blvd. and provides free parking for its patrons.

Click on the image above to purchase a copy of the script for “The Drowning Girls.”

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